Washington Medical Marijuana Bill Dead for Now


In my column two weeks ago, I noted that Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire had bowed to federal threats by vetoing legislation that would have clarified the rules for supplying medical marijuana in that state. Today Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle), the bill's chief sponsor, said she has run out of time to salvage it in the current legislative session:

My efforts to make improvements to existing law were motivated by the need to provide qualifying patients with protection from arrest and prosecution and access to a safe, secure and reliable source of the medicine they are legally entitled to use and that has been recommended to them by their licensed health care provider. I also sought to increase public safety and provide a bright line for law enforcement in determining those who are authorized patients, regulated growers and dispensers.

Despite having bipartisan support, we were unable to achieve these objectives. By far, this represents the greatest disappointment of my legislative career….

Around the time the bill passed the Legislature with bipartisan support, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reinforced its authority to prosecute those involved with commercial dispensaries. As a result, Governor Gregoire vetoed the most substantive parts of SB 5073 out of concern that state employees involved in regulating medical marijuana would be at risk of federal arrest and prosecution….

While the governor did encourage the Legislature to follow-up with a special session bill, it is apparent there is insufficient time to pass a bill addressing these problems…

While it is clear this issue has stalled for now, we cannot continue to ignore this issue—it simply will not solve itself. It is clear that the needs of patients and local jurisdictions remain unresolved and will necessitate further legislative efforts.

The Tacoma New Tribune reports that provisions Gregoire allowed to become law include "authorization for collective marijuana gardens" and "some vague references to dispensaries." The Justice Department, which is actively discouraging states from licensing and regulating dispensaries, wants to keep medical marijuana laws vague, so it can claim it is targeting operations that are not "in clear and unambiguous compliance with state law." Just in case, it also says that, contrary to multiple assurances from President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, complying with state law offers no protection from federal prosecution.